You know what I’m a sucker for? Unlikely success stories, especially if they’re the success stories of hard-working, down-to-earth, spiritual people; the kind of person I myself strive to be at some point of my life. It certainly helps if we’re also looking at a queer person of any persuasion, because that too helps me identify myself with a protagonist’s history. Yes, I acknowledge that this might be quite the self-indulgent reading of another person’s life, but who says selfish pleasure and genuine altruism have to be mutually exclusive?
Either way, my point is that the recent revival of interest in Beverly Glenn-Copeland ticks all my boxes for a beautiful and well-deserved, if rather late, success story. A black trans man, practicing Buddhist, and self-published musician, whose work has taken decades to fully resonate with a world that should’ve embraced it with open arms the first time around, his current wave of praise and widespread reappraisal is nothing short of a miracle, born from the crate-digging tendencies of dedicated fans. With a truly spell-binding voice, and taking cues from folk, new age, and the German song cycle tradition, Beverly Glenn-Copeland has created an enduring body of work. Rediscovery and reissues have only done a small part in creating the man’s mystique and musicality; his legacy stands proudly, calmly on its own feet.
With key works like his two self-titled records (both from the early ‘70s) or 1986’s Keyboard Fantasies – one of my favorite records of all time – now accessible to a larger audience, it was probably only a matter of time until a new, contemporary work would follow. Lo and behold, The Ones Ahead is due out on July 28 via the trusty Transgressive Records, and if you’re only familiar with the man’s new age tendencies, you might want to readjust your attitude towards his œuvre before committing yourself to this new release.
The Ones Ahead is a wonderful collection of different moods and sounds, ranging from folk over soul and gospel to jazz and, yes, new age-inspired idioms. We enter the album through “Africa Calling”, a powerful but thoroughly danceable piece that hearkens back to Glenn-Copeland’s ancestral roots without forcing either the musician or his audience into a fully backward perspective; it sounds much more like a celebration of the now than anything else. Calling it afrobeat would be reductive (and culturally presumptuous), but it does give you a sort of reference point for this marvellous opener.
“Harbour (Song for Elizabeth)” brings the energy levels down for a heartfelt dedication to his wife, Elizabeth. Having been through the proverbial storm in recent years, including bouts of ill health and (relative) homelessness, it’s a sweet sentiment for Glenn-Copeland to come out and thank his spouse for being his safe haven, going through all of it by his side, braving the tides as a team. As a lover of intricate lyricism, the lyrics to this song sometimes felt a bit blunt, unadorned, until I realized that this might be the point – wouldn’t overwrought poetry perhaps overburden his desire to express simple feelings of love and gratitude? In art, beauty lies only in the eyes of two people: its creator and its (intended) beholder. Maybe everyone else should politely reserve their judgment for when it’s expressly their turn.
From here, we go through rousing anthems that call us to action amidst times of upheaval (“People of the Loon”, “Stand Anthem”), poetic ruminations on life (“Ones Ahead”), and dreamy reveries (“Prince Caspian’s Dream”, “Lakeland Angel”) to arrive at the album’s final track, “No Other”. A passionate vocal performance is met with electronics, flutes, background vocals, and piano to swell into a worthy closing statement for an epic – dare I call it a comeback? – album.
20 years removed from his last serving of original material, Beverly Glenn-Copeland proves himself to be just as vital and creative as he was as a younger, perhaps hungrier, certainly less well-known artist. A special shout-out to Indigo Rising, who have assumed the role of Glenn-Copeland’s backing band, and who are doing a beautiful job at enriching this recording with their presence and talents. The Ones Ahead might not be the defining statement of his career, but why would it even need to be? This is the sound of someone still searching for new ways of expressing themselves even after comfortably maturing into their old age, and that achievement alone shouldn’t be underestimated.